By Jasminee Sahoye
“You were awesome.” “My God, you made me laugh so hard.” “Alyson, you were at your best, great acting and those lines …”
These are some of the sentiments expressed to the playwright of Virgin following the last of its three-day staging in Toronto.
Written and produced by Canadian-born Alyson Renaldo, Virgin, an 85-minute production performed by Renaldo, is one woman’s exploration of her relationship with God, morals and personal fulfilment. It explores the myriad of fears, some real, some imagined that surface when one wonders, if her life is missing something.
“I find a lot of art is surrounded around plenty. We have a lot but we want more and a lot of times we find that more fun to think about … I’m rich and I want to do more but the truth of the matter is, most peoples’ lived reality is that they have less and I sort of wanted to honour more peoples’ lives and still be able to have people have a good time with it.
“So, I started thinking about places where I was concerned. What happens if you don’t get married, what happens if you don’t have children, what’s your purpose in life as a woman if all these things aren’t happening, how do you live a life that you’re happy with, that you have good memories but still stay within the moral boundaries of whatever you’re brought up to be, in my case, as a Christian?
“And not that you aren’t happy with having your spiritual walk but it seems to conflict with everything else that is termed, as fun, as adventure, as plenty, and so that’s where I started. All I knew (was) I wanted to deal with lack and humour and then I wanted to be honest about how that can make you feel,” she tells The Camera after the show at Aki Studio Theatre on Dundas St. E.
In a sense, “it was a bit of me, which bits I shan’t reveal …,” she says with a chuckle. “A lot of it was from my life and even if it wasn’t specifically mine, it was friends I changed names of to protect the guilty,” she grinned.
“It’s based on many fears that I encountered as a woman.”
The stage setting, the lighting effects, together with her tone of voice, the use of different West Indian accents, music to complement the various scenes, impersonating someone and acting out a scene, were done with much precision and professionalism and added flair to the one-woman play.
Renaldo kept the audience in suspense with her performance and brought bursts of laughter during aspects of her acting and impersonation.
In one scene, she brilliantly sets the mood of attending a West Indian wedding party and some of the common things that are associated with it, such as the music, dance and the gossips that are ever so popular among relatives and friends and “the noisy relatives.” This part was hilarious with lot of laughter from the full theatre.
Renaldo is proud of her Guyanese heritage, saying her mother has played a big role in helping her understand and interact with people from the Caribbean, especially at church and other social events. “There’s plenty of richness within our community,” referring to the scenes within the play.
Her acting credits include Changing Lanes and The Manchurian Candidate and she served as a producer and lead actress on the Sundance Official Selection film, Welcome to Life.
Virgin is a production of Renaldo’s company, Tache De Naissance Productions, which means birthmark in French and her logo is a reflection of her actual birthmark on her face, which she revealed to The Camera.
Renaldo’s idea of Virgin came from the belief that when a woman loses her virginity, it’s “intense, when you think there’s intimacy, and pain, you’re moving into a realm in which you cannot go back … what do you do and you have to move forward.
“I guess I wanted every audience member to feel that they’re not the only ones, we all have that process of stripping and violation of innocence and as long as we can at least say to each other ‘me too’, that there’s someone in that that makes the pain a little easier, I would imagine.”
In one scene, she highlights sexual desires among teens, what happened during an encounter and what was taught to her by her mother and the church.
Renaldo adds that as someone of West Indian descent, the protection of a woman’s virginity is “tied to culture, class, religion, and so I wouldn’t say virginity is not something that is spoken about but the idea of responsibility and the idea of not letting anybody being able to wash their mouth because you did something foolish, is what’s important.
“So if you look at it from that point, you have to see yourself as a piece of paper that is constantly trying to have ink spilled on you.”
Renaldo believes virginity is still very much a part of the West Indian community, adding “people feel less comfortable speaking it out loud but it’s understood. For women, a first intimate experience is tied to your heart as much as to your body and I think that some of the experiences that I mentioned here have that same reality.
“There’s times when you can’t just get over what happened because your heart is still attached to it and then what do you do?”
And what are her thoughts on teen pregnancy and virginity?
“I think that, ultimately, the idea of sex and intimacy is something that we are physically able to desire and at a very young age, and just because you don’t mentally have the ability and the maturity, it doesn’t mean your body has that calling any less, so that’s a very, very, very hard thing to tell a young person, who maybe, doesn’t have the home life that reinforces the right thing to not search for different kinds of love.
“I really feel strongly that we need to be a little more compassionate about those things, because searching for love isn’t something to disparage and even having a child isn’t something to disparage.
“The part that’s hard is if you don’t have the wisdom and maturity to take responsibility, that’s a different discussion than you had an intimate situation or you had a baby; those things aren’t bad, they’re hard when you don’t know what to do with them.”